This West Country city has grown up a bit in recent years, thanks to an influx of up-and-comers from London who've ditched the big city for greener (and cheaper) pastures. Their arrival has spurred a culinary renaissance of sorts, and Bristol's food scene now includes everything from gourmet burgers to homestyle Indian curries. Here are the 12 best places to eat in town right now.
Best tasting menu: Bulrush
This narrow restaurant has one hell of a pedigree, founded by chef George Livesey (of such iconic spots as Roux, L'Enclume, and St John) and partner Katherine Craughwell. Whether you go vegetarian or carnivorous, the tasting menus combine traditional ingredients with some more unusual choices (like pine yogurt and hay-baked celeriac), many of which are sourced locally or made in-house.
Best modern British: Bell's Diner & Bar Rooms
With a history going back to 1976, this latest rendition of Bell's comes from the hands of chef Sam Sohn-Rethel and features internationally inspired small plates like slow-cooked octopus with peas and mint, chicken oyster pinchos marinated in chipotle, and Turkish falafel with tahini sauce. This is the place to go with a (smallish) group of friends where you order the entire menu and fight for final bites.
Best meal you'll eat in a basement: The Ox
While the beautiful union of meat and booze is nothing new, this particular combination of succulent steaks and cocktails comes from the same team as Hyde & Co and The Milk Thistle. Go solo with a 6oz filet and triple-cooked chips, or bring some friends and split the 30oz T-bone (or bone-in rib steak). The atmosphere is all dark-leather booths, bookcases, and chandeliers, so whatever cut you choose, it'll be eaten in exquisitely classy surroundings.
Best Spanish tapas: Bravas
Loud, lively, and filled with mouth-watering smells from its semi-open kitchen, this small room is like walking through a portal to some effortlessly cool part of Barcelona -- expect small tables, exposed brickwork, and brass metalwork. Owners Kieran & Imogen Waite take annual trips to Spain to make sure they consistently get the flavours right, as well as pick up new points of inspiration to create menu items like wild venison chorizo, boquerones en vinagre, and hake frito.
Best place to eat while saving the world: Poco
One of the forerunners of the British movement for local, sustainable, good-for-everything types, Poco takes this scene to another level. From limiting the mileage its ingredients can travel to maintaining a 95% recycled waste average, this is the kind of joint that makes you (at least feel like) a better human. We're in small-plates territory, so try a bit of everything from house-made merguez and scallop ceviche to a goat's milk chocolate pot. Naturally, there's a strong gluten-free game here as well (if that's your thing).
Best hyperlocal fare: Birch
With a history dotted with London hotspots like St John and Quality Chop House, Sam Leach and Beccy Massey started off throwing supper clubs to really hone what they wanted to create and the result is perfect. Everything here is handmade (or at least locally sourced), from the fresh bread baked in-house to the wildflowers picked in the owner's backyard. The menu is short and simple, changing every few days and highlighting local ingredients like deviled pig skin & ewe's curd.
Best place to relax: The Lido
Connected to an award-winning spa and breathtaking swimming pool, this isn't your usual OCD health-food spot. Sure, it's all actually pretty good for for you, but chef Freddy Bird offers a cornucopia of menus to choose from, including a daily breakfast, hearty a la carte, set menu, all-day tapas, and even a special "BirdFood" menu. Expect dishes like smoked cod's roe on sourdough toast, imam bayildi, and lamb tagine. There are also poolside tables (literally; prepare to get your feet wet) in case you've forgotten your suit but still want the ambience.
Best place to wine & dine: Casamia
This family-owned hotspot started as a mom-and-pop shop serving classic Italian fare, until mom and pop handed over the keys to their sons in 2006, who flipped the entire thing on its head and went on to earn a Michelin star (one of only three in the Bristol area) by combining hyper-seasonal ingredients and modern techniques with their family's proven formula. You'll find wildly different menus here depending on what time of year you visit, but the level of care put into each is what makes it stand out, throughout not only the region but the entire country as well.
Best burger: Chomp
This spot started off as the fantastically named Beef & Beer pop-up, which grew into a cult-favorite food truck before this brick-and-mortar location opened in 2014. Burgers are the place's claim to fame, but it also grills up some mean steaks, from soft and juicy filets to lean and beefy flat-iron cuts. While its love affair with beer is still alive and kicking, Chomp's expanded its liquid menu with a strong selection of bourbon, wine, and even cocktails.
Best homestyle Indian: Chai Shai
Originally opened as more of a deli than a true sit-down eatery, this family-run Bangladeshi restaurant offers up delicious bites like pakoras, samosas, and rice bowls. The formerly cramped interior has (thankfully) been expanded a touch, but it's still highly recommended to plan ahead for this one.
Best place to take the parents: wilks
The first clue with this chef-driven restaurant should come from the fact that it picked up its first Michelin star within a year of opening. The next should be that when you walk in, it still feels like a family restaurant with small (thankfully well-behaved) children in high chairs, even though the dishes look like artwork. wilks -- named for the chef in question James 'Wilks' Wilkins who trained with Gordon Ramsay, the Galvins, and Richard Neat (to name a few) -- is a classic neighborhood restaurant that also happens to serve up plates filled with caramelized lamb sweetbreads, violet potato gnocchi, and wild monkfish escalope.
Best Middle Eastern: Souk Kitchen
Clifton & Southville
This place serves blanket Middle Eastern fare, meaning you'll get the best bites from across the region with plates like Moroccan-spiced lamb with couscous, mint, mechouia & yoghurt, Harissa-fried potatoes topped with feta, and ras el hanout salmon with slow-cooked fennel in yogurt and pine nuts. It's also known for making some seriously creative brunch and at the Clifton branch, there's even a shop where you can buy some of those delicious ingredients to take home with you.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
1. Bulrush21 Cotham Road South, Bristol
2. Bell's Diner and Bar Rooms1-3 York Rd, Bristol
3. The OxThe Basement, 43 Corn St, Bristol
4. Bravas7 Cotham Hill, Bristol
5. Poco45 Jamaica St, Bristol
6. Birch47 Raleigh Rd, Bristol
7. LidoOakfield Place, Bristol
8. CasamiaThe General, Guinea Street, Bristol
9. Chomp10 St Nicholas St, Bristol
10. Chai Shai Kitchen4 Jacobs Wells Road, Bristol
11. Wilks Restaurant1B Chandos Rd, Bristol
12. Souk Kitchen277 North Street, Bristol
This little navy blue corner spot in Bristol makes way for a whitewashed brick interior, where both the standard and vegetarian tasting menus flaunt small bites of big flavor that come to play in inventive vegetable mousses and drizzled bits of scallops and octopus. Dinner comes with a little more heft in vegetable- and game-centered dishes sporting rabbit leg confit and sunflower seed risotto.
This reincarnation of the beloved Bell's Diner from the 1970s slings globally inspired dishes just like it predecessor. Modern takes on Mediterranean staples like salty cod fritters, tahini-drizzled falafel, and courgette doused in feta crumbles. They're designed to share, so you're sure to see large groups occupying one of their few tables and reaching hands out to grab bits and pieces of multiple plates while the wait staff refills their wine glasses.
Probably the most suave basement you'll ever come across in your life, The Ox's hideaway spot is a luxurious little steakhouse bedecked in upholstered, polished leather, wine-colored walls, and hanging light fixtures shaped like grape bunches. It's short menu appears simple but boats some of the best rib-eyes and sirloins in the area alongside a few duck and seafood options, which all come in heaping portions in full, hot pans.
This lively and loud Spanish joint in Cotham Hill offers up a little slice of Barcelona amidst the gray of Britain's permanent overcast wth small tables, exposed brickwork, and brass metalwork. Spanish means tapas, and tapas means bustling tables strewn with multiple plates with delicate portions of mixed cured meats, salsas, and salads and a lot of wandering hands. It also means wine, and a lot of it -- this place boats a selection nearing 100.
In 2004 this Bristol-based installment began serving tapas across Britain's most beloved music festivals until, in 2011, they got so popular they decided to go full-on brick and mortar. In a refined corner spot wedged between Cotham and Montpelier, Poco delivers even better versions of the same small dishes that they made their start with, like cold hummus and oysters and hot sauteed vegetable mixes and succulent pork belly.
This dazzling white corner shop in Southville's all about hyper-localizing their cuisine. The menu keeps customers guessing with a different lineup every day, but if there's one thing that's for sure at Birch it's freshness. Breads baked in-house, flower garnishes picked from the back yard garden, and meats and produce sourced from farms not too far out into the country make for dishes like smoked pollock and roasted duck on ovular plates with plenty of white space.
Lido offers an award-winning spa, a breathtaking swimming pool, and a restaurant that actually isn't full of flavorless health food. Chef Freddy Bird is whipping up scrumptious dishes like smoked cod’s roe on sourdough toast, imam bayildi, and lamb tagine. He also prepares breakfast with standout items like Turkish poached eggs, plus excellent a la carte and set menus. Didn't bring your swim trunks but still want the outdoor ambiance? You're in luck: you can dig into your dish at a poolside table.
Casamia is easily one of the finest dining experiences in Bristol (and Britain) -- it even has the Michelin star to prove it. This elegant space started as a mom & pop hotspot that dished out classic Italian cuisine, until mom & pop handed over the keys to their sons in 2006, who created a sophisticated and hyper-seasonal restaurant. Both the decor and tasting menus change throughout the year, but no matter when you drop in, you can expect a dozen exceptional courses crafted with precision and the freshest ingredients.
From successful pop-up to cult-favorite food truck to beloved brick-and-mortar, Chomp skyrocketed to popularity for its high-quality beef and beer options. The burgers are its claim to fame (consider going for the Dirty Classic with mayo, shredded iceberg, sweet fried onions, bacon, American cheese, pickles, and ketchup), but it grills up a variety of top-notch steaks, too -- from soft and juicy filets to lean and beefy flat iron cuts. Be sure to pair your order with one of the quality brews or bourbon drinks on the menu.
True to its name, Chai Shai Kitchen really feels as though you're dining inside the kitchen of the family who operates this tiny, rustic eatery. It offers just a handful of tables (it originally opened as more of a takeaway spot than a sit-down restaurant), plus some authentic, scrumptious Bangladeshi bites like pakoras, samosas, and rice bowls. Between the quality of the food and the size of the space, we highly recommend you plan ahead for this spot.
Wilks has the ultimate street cred: it picked up its first Michelin Star during its first year of business. The dishes here are works of art, which isn't surprising, considering Chef James "Wilks" Wilkins trained with Gordon Ramsay, the Galvins, and Richard Neat. You'll find flavorful and elegant plates including caramelized lamb sweetbreads, violet potato gnocchi, and wild monkfish escalope. And while it's a sophisticated dining experience, it's anything but pretentious, maintaining the feel of a family-style, neighborhood spot.
A cozy and colorful spot, Souk serves up Middle Eastern fare from across the region, including Moroccan spiced lamb with couscous, mint, mechouia, and yoghurt, Harissa fried potatoes topped with feta, and Ras el hanout salmon. The team here is also known for its scrumptious brunch menu (they make a mean shakshouka), and at their Clifton location, you'll even find a shop where you can pick up some of the flavorful ingredients they use and recreate your favorite dishes at home.